Ryanair, the leading passenger transport company in Spain, continues to feature news about labor irregularities on its staff, according to the criteria of the Labor Inspectorate, the Ministry and the justice, with examples such as the conviction of the National Court that annulled the collective dismissal of more than 200 workers from Spanish bases. The director of Human Resources of the Irish low-cost company, Darrel Hughes, and the director of Operations, Neal McMahon, respond to elDiario.es on the prospects of the airline in full swing of outbreaks by coronavirus and the open causes for labor abuses in the country. Managers warn of upcoming layoffs in Spain.
The National Court declares Ryanair’s ERE null in its Spanish bases: it concludes that there was “employer bad faith” and “law fraud”
Those responsible for the company, as the company did in a statement this week, partly blame the cabin crew unions (USO and Sitcpla) for job losses by not accessing salary cuts to minimize departures in these moments of crisis due to COVID-19, as has been achieved with the Sepla pilots union. Workers’ organizations, with several victories in their complaints against the airline’s labor practices, criticize the Irish multinational for its low willingness to negotiate and its obstacles to reaching agreements, such as the promised collective agreements that the workforce is still waiting for.
The company has already announced the 20% reduction in its offer in September and October, but coronavirus outbreaks continue to increase rapidly in Spain. Is the airline studying greater reductions given the increase in cases?
Darrell Hughes: Yes, of course. We are facing a very uncertain winter. We have reduced a significant amount of our capacity in winter and this is very likely to worsen significantly, especially in Spain.
Does the airline handle a scenario in which air traffic was again impeded due to the pandemic? What expectations does Ryanair have?
Neal McMahon: There is the possibility of traffic cuts this winter. Our original plan is to reduce capacity by 20% compared to last winter, but it is very likely that we can reduce more if there are more closures.
How is the refund policy for customers on flights canceled due to COVID-19 cancellations progressing? This same week Ryanair was trending topic On Twitter, many customers claimed that they have been waiting for the money for 5 months.
Darrell Hughes: We have processed over 90% of requested refunds and it has been slower than we would have liked. We received a volume that was in the tens of millions where it would normally be in the tens of thousands.
We have teams working here in our Dublin office and elsewhere trying to reach all regions. We have made very significant progress, but some still need to be resolved. Many of those that remain are from people who booked the flights through travel agencies on-line they do not provide us with their details and that makes things very difficult for us when we try to reimburse passengers. To date we have paid more than 800 million euros in refunds and we are almost done.
The airline has just signed an agreement for the next four years with the Sepla union to reduce pilots’ salaries by 20%, which Ryanair points out will allow “minimizing the job losses of Spanish pilots,” according to a statement. Despite the salary cut, does the airline think it is necessary to reduce personnel among the pilots?
Neal McMahon: The purpose of the agreement is that we minimize the number of layoffs in Spain as much as possible. With this agreement there is a 20% salary reduction in four years, which will be reinstated at the end of that period. Thanks to this we can keep the pilots. We will maintain the existing number of pilots and distribute the work to minimize layoffs and that is the good thing about reaching this agreement. Ultimately, we will minimize the number of pilot layoffs and share the work.
The company warned this week that “the possibility of job losses among the Spanish cabin crew is now more real than ever.” How many cabin crew does Ryanair plan to reduce in the country?
Darrell Hughes: We don’t know, but it will be high numbers. We previously advised the unions that we had a surplus of 350 cabin crew at all of our Spanish bases, but that was before our announcement this week of the 20% reductions in our capacity for September and October.
It is very difficult to predict what we are going to fly in winter, but what we can say with certainty is that we have too many crew in Spain and we are going to have to tackle that. And it is most likely through job losses.
We are going to appeal the cancellation of the ERTE, of course. We do not think it makes any sense that the staff that had to be readmitted in the Canary Islands and Girona is not in an ERTE when all their colleagues were
Work has canceled the ERTE that Ryanair applied to the workers that the National Court forced to readmit, after canceling the ERE of the airline in Spain. Is Ryanair going to appeal the cancellation of the ERTE or is it going to pay the salaries and contributions of the workers for these months?
Darrell Hughes: We will resort, of course. We have already asked our attorneys to challenge this decision. We had our cabin crew and pilots on the ground for almost four months in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia… They were in an ERTE all over Spain. We do not think it makes any sense that a crew that was readmitted to the Canary Islands and Girona bases is not in an ERTE when all their other colleagues were in one. It is an objective fact that the fleet was on the ground and that there were no flights. And that was the reason why we requested the ERTE.
The Labor Inspectorate proposed to fine Ryanair for 26 work absences in the workers’ strikes against the ERE that the company applied in Spain. How much money does the Administration claim from the airline for these infractions and in what process are these infraction acts?
Darrell Hughes: Since the strike last September we have been engaged with local and national labor inspectors throughout Spain. We have covered all the issues, provided a very extensive documentation, thousands of pages long. We have received some notifications of infractions that we are working on at the moment, appealing them. We have been cooperating with those inquiries and investigations all the way.
Therefore, Ryanair has not yet paid any fines.
Darrell Hughes: The process is still open.
The ruling of the National Court that annulled Ryanair’s collective dismissal of more than 200 workers in Spain was very harsh Recriminates against Ryanair’s “obvious bad faith and fraud”. How do you think these types of labor offenses affect the image and reputation of your company?
Darrell Hughes: We obviously do not agree with those conclusions. We negotiated the process last year in good faith and provided all the information. The unions, particularly those of the cabin crew, made up a story that we do not believe was fair or accurate. But we respect the result of the court and we will comply with the sentence regarding our obligations to reinstate the crew.
Ryanair agreed at the end of 2018 reach collective agreements in Spain, which have not yet been reached. What has been the problem for not advancing in these agreements in all this time?
Darrell Hughes: It is due to two issues. One is called USO and the other Sitcpla. We recognized trade unions across Europe in 2018 and it takes time to negotiate collective agreements. But in the end, the key point is that we conclude the collective agreements in all the countries of Europe with the exception of Spain. We have managed to finalize an agreement with the pilots in Spain for the next four years, but it has proven impossible to do so with USO and Sitcpla. The problem here is not Spain. It is not Ryanair. The problem is that USO and Sitcpla remain without significant commitment. They are more interested in attacking this business through media campaigns than in doing what a union is supposed to do, which is to sit down and negotiate with the employer.
We are resorting to state aid to airlines that have already been taken because we are against discrimination, the support that is given based on reasons other than the number of passengers flying
But in Spain the pilots still do not have their collective agreement, an agreement has not been reached either with Sepla at this time, right?
Neal McMahon: Yes, we did. Ryanair and Sepla have agreed on the main terms of both an emergency agreement and a base agreement that will result in a full collective agreement. The original base agreement was made in March and the emergency agreement begins in August. Both have been voted and approved by an overwhelming majority of Spanish drivers.
Are there options to renegotiate with the cabin crew an agreement to avoid layoffs?
Darrell Hughes: Our door is always open for negotiation and it stays open. It is the turn of USO and Sitcpla.
Ryanair announced that it would resort to public aid to other airlines in this coronavirus crisis. Have you done it already?
Darrell Hughes: Yes, we are using state aid that has already been taken. We are not against aid available to struggling industries, such as the aviation industry. Our problem is with discrimination, with the support that is given based on reasons other than the number of passengers flying. Our problem is the discriminatory and selective state aid that has been given to prop up inefficient airlines.